Incubating at Cogo: Launching Your Product
Contrast, the business my team and I are incubating at Cogo, recently launched our first substantial product: SmartSavings. SmartSavings helps people new to budgeting set a weekly budget and stick to it by connecting their accounts and providing insights into their saving and spending activity throughout the week. Our user acquisition metrics are promising, we’re cash-flow positive, and we have lots of great ideas to make it even better. This is the story of how we got here, and what it takes to launch a product the Cogo way.
Our team, like the founding teams of many Cogo businesses, started out at Cogo as analysts on internal projects. We each spent a couple years learning the ropes by running user acquisition campaigns across a variety of digital channels, building content-rich websites, and getting a deeper understanding of the applications of the petabytes of data that Cogo collects. Once we had these skills in our toolbox, we started exploring what kind of business we wanted to incubate.
In conducting research for new business ideas at Cogo, we look at the public data available on industries of interest and pair that with Cogo’s proprietary data that helps us understand how online businesses grow efficiently. Then we think about how that information fits into the Cogo mold – data-centric companies that can grow quickly by generating their own revenue. As we searched, we were drawn to personal finance. There are a lot of exciting developments right now in finance, like digital financial advisors and automated savings tools, and there’s a real need for these: according to the Fed, 46% of Americans would have to borrow money to cover an unexpected $400 expense!
We also knew that getting into personal finance would bring with it lots of new and interesting data. We already have a lot of consumer intent and trend data, but our ability to create value would go through the roof if we could pair that data with information about consumer transactions. It didn’t hurt that Cogo has a close relationship with Vestigo Ventures, giving us access to a deep panel of financial services expertise.
So, then we built SmartSavings, right? Not quite. As I mentioned previously, growing your business with your own revenue is an important attribute of a Cogo company. First, we partnered with financial services businesses to develop user acquisition campaigns. Email marketing is core to how we would build SmartSavings in the coming months, so working with established companies in the financial services space helped us accelerate our learning curve. Essentially we get paid for providing qualified leads to these partners, and that gives us the revenue to support ourselves in building a product – this is commonly referred to in marketing circles as “lead gen”. With the wealth of tools and expertise at Cogo we were able to get this running in just a few months.
Even with Cogo’s massive amounts of data and enough revenue to keep us liquid, it’s never simple building a new business from scratch. We initially worked on building tools to connect consumers with financial advisors and products. Despite testing a lot of ideas – really, the team’s ability to iterate blew me away – we still weren’t seeing metrics that got us excited. So we took another hard look at Cogo’s data and realized something – the digital finance products that tended to perform better on the internet were focused not on financial advice, but the basics, like helping people spend less money than they make.
In hindsight, it’s not very surprising – remember that stat from the Fed? And sure enough, after building a few quick landing pages and running some test campaigns, we realized that there are substantially more people worried about saving money and paying off debt than there are those worried about managing their investments.
So that’s when we started putting SmartSavings together. It was more time-consuming than our earlier ideas – we had to build out a deeper product and develop vendor relationships to enable users to connect their accounts – but we bet that the investment would pay off in growth, data, and ultimately, a more valuable business.
A month after launch, SmartSavings is an enormously promising first product, and is already seeing the signup and retention metrics we were hoping for. We obviously have a long way to go to still, and you could argue that we’ve only just crossed the starting line. But we’re definitely headed in the right direction. Thanks to Cogo’s data, engineering resources, and a phenomenal team – you’ll be seeing a lot more of SmartSavings in the future.